The Republican foursome, assembled to criticize the president for failing to visit the border during his visit to Texas this week, was coordinated by Sen. John McCain and included fellow Arizonan Jeff Flake and both of the chamber's Texans, John Cornyn and the man McCain once dubbed a “wacko bird,” Ted Cruz.
“President Obama today is down in the state of Texas, but sadly he's not visiting the border,” said Cruz, in a rare collaboration with McCain. “... He's visiting Democratic fat cats to collect checks, and apparently there's no time to look at the disaster, at the devastation that's being caused by his policies. ... It is a disaster that is the direct consequence of President Obama's lawlessness.”
It is surely no coincidence that Cruz's words on the Senate floor followed closely the logic of Sarah Palin, who this week wrote on the Breitbart website that Obama's “lawlessness” requires his impeachment. “His unsecured border crisis is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, ‘no mas'?” Wasilla's favorite daughter wrote. “Opening our borders to a flood of illegal immigrants is deliberate. This is his fundamental transformation of America.”
But this border crisis, sowed years ago and building for months, is neither a high crime nor a misdemeanor. It's a humanitarian nightmare in which children, some as young as 4, can face physical and sexual abuse, injury and death in their lonely journeys. What's upside-down about the Cruz-Palin argument is that this crisis has actually been brought about by Obama following the law.
The most obvious and direct cause of the flood of children from Central America is the 2008 human trafficking law that ended the rapid deportation of unaccompanied minors who come illegally from countries other than Mexico and Canada. The law essentially guarantees long stays for these immigrants by promising them a deportation process that can take 18 months, during which time they are often placed with family members who have little incentive to have the kids show up for hearings.
The law, which cleared both houses of Congress by unanimous consent and was signed by George W. Bush in his final days in office, was bipartisan and well intentioned — but it was exploited by the very traffickers it was meant to target, who encouraged this huge emigration of children from Central America.
This makes it all the more inexplicable that Obama is avoiding a visit to the border during his trip to Texas. His absence makes it appear that he is hiding from the issue, giving his critics a free shot. Even Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, worried that this could be Obama's “Katrina moment,” referring to George W. Bush's slow initial response to the 2005 hurricane.
White House officials, after days of maintaining that they weren't concerned about the “optics” of Obama skipping the border, added a last-minute Dallas event to Obama's schedule Wednesday addressing “the urgent humanitarian situation.”
Obama's conservative critics say the crisis was caused by his decision to suspend deportation of children who were brought illegally to the United States before 2007. That probably contributed to the problem. Central American parents may have been led to believe Obama's leniency toward the so-called “dreamers” would also benefit these current arrivals. The Obama administration's alternative explanation is that the children coming from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are fleeing violence. That is surely another factor.
But even in the querulous quartet on the Senate floor there was an acknowledgment that the 2008 trafficking law is, as Flake put it, “the root of it or the main part of it.” Cornyn agreed that “we need to change that 2008 law” because it makes it so “these immigrants who come across will not be detained.”
Alas, there was no such honesty from Cruz, who forecast 90,000 child immigrants coming illegally this year and 145,000 next year. “This explosion is the direct consequence of the president's lawlessness,” he repeated, adding, “The only response that will stop this humanitarian disaster is for President Obama to start enforcing the law.”
The truth — that this disaster has been caused by Obama's adherence to the law — would be hard for Cruz to square with his worldview.
Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist.
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